When I told you about the Mormon girls coming to visit us, I mentioned Hindu hospitality off-hand and I wanted to return to that subject today.
From what I understand it is very normal for people in India to drop by friends’ houses unannounced and there’s an atmosphere of always being ready to entertain guests should they show up.
It’s not like that in most of America. Usually here people expect that you will make an appointment to visit. Your friends are likely to be busy with something and you want to make sure that you’re fitting into their lives and plans and not inconveniencing them.
There’s something to be said for it. You know what your plans are and who you’re going to be seeing that day. But I kind of miss the atmosphere of my college dorm where you could always walk over to your friend’s room and see what they were up to. Even living in an apartment building, which is a similar set up, doesn’t have that feel.
I suspect that the culture of being open to having guests at any moment is partly to do with Hinduism’s influence in India. Welcoming your guest is the same as welcoming God.
It’s not just Hinduism, of course. In myths and stories around the world there are lots of examples of Gods or sages disguising themselves and going to visit regular people, testing them to see how they treat their fellow human beings when no one is watching.
In Hinduism, though, it isn’t just that the person showing up at your door could be God testing you, it’s that they are definitely God. Because everyone is.
So when you have a guest and you know that guest is a manifestation of the divine, of course you greet them with delight and make sure they enjoy their visit. You give them tea and food and offer entertainment.
It’s a blessing to have an opportunity like that to serve God!
Unfortunately, because this is not the culture in most of America, the guests themselves are more likely to be reluctant to avail themselves of welcoming friends. It is a service also to allow your friends and family to provide for you. When your friend offers you a place to stay, or tells you to stop by any time, or makes a snack for you, do accept! Take them at their word. It is graciousness on your part to accept and it puts your host at ease.
And to my own friends, I love to have people over. Our home is always ready. We have a guest room you are welcome to use and even if you just want to stop by for a board game and some tea, please do. Just call me to make sure I’m home, but most evenings I am!
Some other perspectives on it: